The last few days have been rather piss poor. But, today’s announcement by the FTC regarding “sponsored” blog posts was like sunshine on a cloudy day. Yes, I can hear Marvin Gaye playing in the background. Andy Beal does a great job of covering the situation here and AdAge even manages to do “report” and not just offer opinions here.
Here’s my perspective on this latest news. I LOVE it. For month’s I’ve been complaining about companies like IZEA and their shady practices. See, here’s how companies like IZEA work. They are the leader in “sponsored conversations.” What’s a sponsored conversation you ask? I mean it sounds harmless right? IZEA, even makes it sound simple and harmless. Here’s what they characterize a sponsored conversation as:
A sponsored conversation is a social media marketing technique in which brands provide financial or material compensation to bloggers in exchange for posting social media content about a product, service or website on their blog.
That sounds harmless right? How could that totally be anything, but bad. Right? So let me give you a scenario:
- Let’s say a company like Kmart comes to IZEA and says, boy can you guys help me leverage the power of social media to change perceptions about our stores and products?
- IZEA, says, well sure, we can do that! As a matter of fact, we have this one guy, Chris Brogan, who’s really influential. He writes and awesome blog, has lots of followers, and is very credible. He’d be perfect.
- Kmart, says, sure, whatever, just find some influencers to make this happen, cool?
- So IZEA gets people like Chris to write posts about Kmart. Chris does just that, right here.
- And look how big and obvious it is that what he’s writing is a “sponsored post.” It’s really similar to the tiny legal copy at the bottom of pharma ads on tv, isn’t it?
So in this scenario, can you believe Chris? I mean sure, what he was offered was rather small compensation, but did it make you pause for just a second and wonder was Chris being truthful or was he just full of it? Full of it, like how we all obviously believe that given the choice of any car in the world, Tiger Woods elects to drive a Buick and Derek Jeter ALWAYS chooses Gillette. Right…For what it’s worth Chris’ point of view is here. But, also keep in mind, he’s an IZEA board member. To me, the fact he had to defend his decision to participate in a “sponsored conversation” proves my point that when you engage in IZEA’s shady practices you really stop being seen as a “Trust Agent.”
Ok, so here’s what the FTC now says:
The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.
The key piece of language is case-by-case. I don’t know how the FTC would have looked at this specific situation, but if they had deemed Chris overstepped, well he’d be paying an $11,000.00 fine. Folks, let me be clear on something; you can NOT purchase influence. If you pay people to push a crappy product, guess what, when people buy it, they will realize it’s a crappy product and they’ll be pissed. You can’t screw with the public and get away with it. Companies like IZEA sell marketers on the concept that you can buy influence and buzz. All you need is some sponsored conversations to get the ball started!
If you’re a marketer, brand, or company thinking about trying to purchase some influence you might want to think again. More importantly, if you’re a blogger, tweeter, social media evangelist, etc. you REALLY need to think again before you start accepting payola. After all you could find yourself $11,000.00 lighter in the bank account.